Thirty four years ago, Larry Brown's UCLA team dashed Clemson's Final Four hopes

Mustangs, Tigers defied expectations with RPI surges; Clemson on record pace for 3-point D, free throw shooting

Casey Thornton, left, holds a Clemson flag with Chris Alston before the NBC Today Show in New York City. Fans from the New York Clemson Club organized a group visit to see the show and show their orange color around New York before the National Invitation Tournament.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Casey Thornton, left, holds a Clemson flag with Chris Alston before the NBC Today Show in New York City. Fans from the New York Clemson Club organized a group visit to see the show and show their orange color around New York before the National Invitation Tournament.

Tonight's NIT semifinal between Clemson and SMU will be the Tigers' second encounter with Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.

Thirty four years ago, Brown's UCLA Bruins stopped the Tigers a game short of the NCAA Final Four, as they defeated Clemson in the West Regional finals at Tucson, Ariz.

Coach Bill Foster's Tigers won games over Utah State and Brigham Young in Ogden, Utah to open the tournament, and then defeated Lamar in the regional semifinals to set up the game against Brown's UCLA team.

The Bruins used a 17-5 run late in the first half to erase a 30-29 Clemson lead and then went on to an 85-74 victory. Billy Williams scored 18 points to lead the Tigers, while Larry Nance scored 13 and was named to the All-West Regional Team.

SMU is Brown's third NCAA coaching stint, following his time at UCLA and Kansas.

Tigers, Mustangs Made Huge RPI Jumps: When the college basketball season began in November, not much was expected of either Clemson or SMU.

The Tigers were coming off a losing season and were picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC, and had a leftover No. 187 RPI from the previous year.

SMU started out even lower, with a 2013 RPI of No. 213.

Larry Brown's Mustangs made the biggest RPI jump of any Division 1 team this season, as they vaulted to No. 53 on the list headed into selection Sunday. Most bracket projections had SMU solidly in the NCAA field.

Clemson jumped 108 spots, from 187th to 79th, to put itself in the thick of the NCAA bubble conversation.

Will NIT Prove To Be A Springboard For Tigers? Over the years, playing in the NIT has been a strong predictor of future success for the Clemson program.

Five times that Clemson has played in the NIT, the Tigers have made it to the NCAA tournament the following season.

After making the NIT final in 2007, Clemson ended a 10-year NCAA drought the following year as a five-seed in the “Big Dance.”

When Clemson appeared in the 1995 NIT with a young team, it set the foundation for three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

The same occurred in 2007, as Clemson made four straight appearances in the national tourney following a march to the championship final of the NIT that season.

Tigers On Pace To Set 3-PT Defense, FT Records: Clemson enters the SMU game on school record pace for three-point percentage defense and free throw percentage.

Clemson’s .284 three-point percentage defense leads the NCAA heading into the NIT semifinals. The Tigers' previous best mark was .294, which was set in Oliver Purnell’s last season, 2009-10.

The last time Clemson led the NCAA in a team stat was 1983-84 when it tallied 20.5 assists per game.

Clemson is shooting .742 as a team from the free throw line, ahead of the .734 record pace set by the 1981-82 team.

Five of Clemson’s primary rotation players shoot 75 percent or better at the line, led by K.J. McDaniels’ .849 figure. The Tigers rank No. 1 in the ACC and No. 33 among NCAA teams.

After 4 ACC Seasons, Brownell Tops The Chart: Brad Brownell’s teams have totaled 32 ACC regular season wins during his first four seasons at Clemson. That is the most ACC wins recorded by a Clemson coach over his first four seasons.

The previous high was 28 by Rick Barnes, who played 16-game schedules all four seasons. Brownell’s teams faced 16-game schedules his first two seasons, and 18 the past two.

Brownell’s teams have achieved eight or more ACC wins in three of his four seasons, also first among Clemson coaches.

Brownell is 34-40 against ACC teams in his Clemson career (including conference tournaments), and the .459 winning percentage is best in school history. Oliver Purnell, the previous coach, previously held the best mark at .439, from 2003-10.

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